By Innocent Orok
When Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) a strong ally of President Mohammadu Buhari was appointed the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service in July 2015, many saw it as a breach of professional appointment and putting a round peg in a square hole.
There was public outcry for President Buhari to revert to the status quo, but as expected, Baba Buhari sticks to his decision.
After few weeks, Col Hameed Ali finally resumes office in July 2015. In his first meeting with Officers and Men of the Service he announced that the president has given him a mandate to restructure, reforms and increase the revenue in the service.
On these tripod mandates the retired Colonel begins a new learning job in the Nigeria Customs Service. How far has Ali so far feared in the last four years as the helmsman of the NCS?
SANATE WAR WITH ALI:
The furore between the Nigerian Senate and the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller General, Col.Hameed Ibrahim Ali ( rtd) re- echoed again yesterday, when the media was awash with the news of a senator calling for Ali’s sack for alleged fraud and incompetence.
Just as the “Ali must wear Uniform” saga between the Senate and the Customs boss in 2019, this year version of “Ali must go” is premised by the senate on alleged “Fraud and Incompetence”.
Interestingly too, while the Ali must wear uniform saga last year was spearheaded by Senator Dino Malaye from Kogi State, this recent called for Ali sack is champion by Senator Ade Fadahunsi, from Osun state. Fadahunsi is the deputy chairman Sanate Committee on Customs and Excise and a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs.
Fadahunsi in his outburst recently has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service over alleged fraud and incompetence in the service.
Speaking in an interview with the Punch Newspaper on Sunday, Mr Fadahunsi, the Senator representing Osun East Senatorial District was quoted as alleging that Mr Ali’s sheer incompetence and poor border control had resulted in the proliferation of small arms which is now threatening the nation’s existence.
INCOMPETENCE OF ALI REGIME AND CORRUPTION:
Many stakeholders have accused the Ali led customs as more corrupt and incompetent as according to them, the CG is not abreast with the Customs norms and operations in the ports as he solely rely on what he is being brief by the officers.
Many also argued that he is too old for the job and is not conversant with the ICT processes where the twenty-first century customs is being managed.
Others are also accusing Ali of nepotism, favouring only a set and section of Officers in strategic and juicy postings in the last four years of his regime.
According to Senator Fadahunsi, the Customs boss allowed traders to smuggle contraband goods and items into the country, despite a ban by the Federal Government.
“I told the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), that his border management is poor.
“You don’t need to carry guns and start running after those people who have settled your boys. It is wrong, they paid bribes to the boys at the border and they are still running after them now.
“The border management is poor and it has failed. The same failure is seen at the ports, and that is the cause of port congestion.”
Fadahunsi further said a competent professional should be in charge of Customs. He said “Soldiers are not trained to generate revenue. They are trained to buy ammunition and to kill”.
Enumerating more crimes committed by the Ali regime, the retired Customs officer said, “This man met more than 30,000 personnel in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), and today they are not more than 15,000 left, he has sacked all of them.”
ALLEGED FRAUD IN CUSTOMS:
It is difficult to ascertain fraudulent activities in the present day Customs, especially when the Customs CG is regarded as a very upright, patriotic and incorruptible man.
Again , many stakeholders have termed the “incorruptible”stance of the Customs boss as a political fiat to show that he is working.
Some stakeholders have said while the Customs boss may abhor fraud and corruption, his officers are deep neck in it and he is just standing alone.
To substantiate this facts, senator Fadahunsi said “if you see the fraud in the Customs now, you will be shocked, but nobody must talk. They make noise to cover this up, but if you go into their books, you will be surprised.
“Customs headquarters was awarded for N2.7 billion then, but today the project is going to about N30 billion.
The project has not been completed, but the furniture contract for the uncompleted building has been awarded.
“Who is fooling who? If Mr. President sees what the man is doing, he will run out of the country.
“That is why I am saying that Mr. President should put a technical person from Customs there; if not, the man will run the place aground.
“The CG wants to recruit 3,200 persons and he paid N1.6 billion to a consultant to recruit 3,200 persons. The money is not for training but to just recruit them.
“I asked him if the Nigerian army ever used consultants to recruit personnel and he said no. He said Customs officers are corrupt and he is bringing in a consultant to recruit 3,200 persons and he will pay the firm N1.6 billion.
“Are you recruiting five million people? The N1.6 billion is even in the budget and that is one of the reasons the budget was being queried by the leadership of the Senate,” Mr Fadahunsi said.
THREATS OF SACK, IS ALI BOTHERED?
Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali may neither be disturbed nor bothered about the allegations of incompetence, fraud or sack, but the truth most be told.
He is one of the untouchables, strong confidant and old ally of the President.
In fact a senior Customs officer friend of mind said, President Buhari is more afraid of Ali when it comes to corruption stance and bending the roles to favour any situation.
The trust of Buhari in Ali can also be seen during the 2019 presidential elections. Ali was used as the chief collation officer at the INEC headquarters in Abuja ,during the announcement of the 2019 presidential election results. The Customs CG kept vigil for days and nights to secure a second term for Buhari.
We also gathered that, when many were thinking the Customs boss will leave for higher responsibilities after the 2019 election if Buhari won, they were disappointed as Ali has come to stay, no doubt about that.
DOES CUSTOMS NEED A CAREER OFFICER AS CG?
Many thought the appointment of Col Hameed Ali, a retired Army officer was for a period of time to possibly change the perception of the “Corruption ” labeled customs officers by the system.
The truth is that Ali has over stayed in customs
Ali might have succeeded in raising revenue ,though subject to trade policies and exchange rate regime.
He has been able to instilled some level of discipline in the service, that was when he newly came onboard.
But for institutional effectiveness and fighting corruption in the service, nothing has change, because the officers are more endangered species now , than ever before.
Even though the officers have put up their best to make Ali’s regime shine, their welfare is still in ramshackle stage.
Many thought the Customs boss will use his closeness to the president and others in the corridors of power to better the working conditions of the officers and men of the service. But four years after things are getting worst for the Customs. Truly, as Fadahunsi said, the Customs may be run aground if something is not done fast.
The Customs need a professional career officer to take over from Ali to inject professional competence, institutional effectiveness, working with the same space, vigour and speed and more importantly espirit de corps.
It is worthy to note that the twenty -first century global customs management depends solely on competent management, resourceful impacts and professional competence. Rather than political, ethnic or friendship coloration.
Nigeria Customs service needs a mindas touch of a professional leadership if the truth must be told.